Happiness Project: Dig deep.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

It took me many months to come up with my personal Twelve Commandments, and I think about them all the time – whether because I’m living up to them, or failing to live up to them.

I love hearing what other people have chosen for their commandments. A good friend of mine had an excellent list of her own four commandments, and the one that stuck in my head was “Dig deep.” One of the interesting things about commandments is that I usually don’t have to ask someone to explain what it means. It means something to me, even if that might be different from what the creator meant.

The minute I heard “Dig deep,” I knew what it meant for me. I needed to dig deep with my children.

Take this morning. It started out well, and I kept my resolution to Sing in the morning.

Then the Big Girl started fussing, telling me that she didn’t have anything to wear – and we went shopping for school clothes less than a week ago! Eventually she got dressed, and we left the house to walk to school. The Big Girl had cheered up, but the Little Girl was crying in her stroller, because – why? I don’t know, she wouldn’t explain. It was obvious from the way that she was crying that she wasn’t hurt or really upset, she was just fretful. For block after block. Then the Big Girl started wailing, “Why can’t you make her stop crying?” etc.

I did NOT handle this well. I feel like my fuse is especially short in the morning; it also seems like my children are at their least charming in the morning.

I kept reminding myself, “Dig deep, dig deep!” I’d take a deep breath, and say something cheerful, but then I’d snap again. But everything worked out eventually. We dropped the Big Girl off at school, the Little Girl got tired of crying, I stopped the stroller and said lovingly, “Would you like a drink from the water bottle?” and she was perfectly cheery.

But it was rough there for a while. Controlling my quick irritation and my sharp tongue is something I struggle to do every day – but I know that if can’t yell and snap my way toward the loving, peaceful, tender atmosphere that I want. Dig deep, dig deep.

A thoughtful reader sent me the link to a very nice blog, Thursday Drive.

Thinking about starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • thanks for the link to Thursday Drive; that’s some powerful writing. I appreciate your open generosity to other thinkers and writers. I think it’s a very admirable trait. . . .

  • Gwaine

    Hi Gretchen,
    Give this one a shot – focus on your breathing while in the stressful situation. I’ve found that it removes you just enough from the situation so that you’re not fuming inside, but it doesn’t remove you so much that you’re not present. It’s come in especially handy with a little one in the van’s backseat crying and whining because he’s bored but there’s not much I can do because we need to get to our destination. Give it a shot – it might work.
    As for my commandments:
    When there’s something you can do then give it everything you’ve got. When there’s nothing you can do, then do nothing. (From a buddhist monk in Australia – Ajahn Brahm)
    Smile, breathe, and go slowly. (don’t recall where I got this one)
    It doesn’t matter. (One of the Ajahn Brahm talks again)
    One more thing…I may be out of line here but try give yourself a break. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
    I’ve heard that 98% of the time an airplane is off track from the scheduled flight plan but they always (well most times) end up at the correct destination.
    So your commandments are like your destination. An ideal goal or target. During everyday life you will get off track but you’ll also make corrections to get back to where you want to be. Expect the goofs! Expect to make mistakes! But know that you’re going in the right direction and will eventually get there – just not the way you thought you would.
    I wonder how many pilots look back at their flight that was mostly off track and say “I did NOT handle this well” 🙂

  • Hi Gretchen: I feel your pain! Mornings are tough and my girl (age almost 7) takes a while to cheer up. Today she had a whole litany of complaints; eventually it was almost funny.
    I think the breathing strategy is wonderful, in fact that’s what I tell VG (vintage girl) to do when she gets frustrated or angry and it works for her too!
    My First Commandment: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Love (reminded of this by Marelisa at Abundance Blog, which you would appreciate. If you don’t know it already, take a peek!

  • I just discovered your blog–very nice! I’ve been having to dig deep recently with my “new” teenage son (just turned 13). This morning he took his cheerios and ate in another room because I dared speak to him (imagine!). I’m focusing on humor and compassion when he gives me attitude, but that’s not always enough to sustain me if I’m tired and cranky.

  • Valerie

    I am sincerely suffering almost every week day morning and sometimes weekends. Trying to get everybody out of the door in time and happy is just so darn hard and I feel like the morning witch. Ive tried many things and the getting everything ready the night before ritual doesnot work every time. And then I sit at my desk and stare at my familys pictures its so sad to have to start my days like this…I appreciate all the help you might suggest.

  • Caroline

    Hi Gretchen!
    I wrote my personal commandments a couple of days ago. I started with a long and wordy list, and it was such a re-focusing and calming experience to narrow them down to the points by which I strive to live. Here’s what I ended up with:
    1. Think for myself. Do for myself.
    2. Communicate.
    3. Choose not to take things personally.
    4. Choose to think positively.
    5. Do good and be kind.
    6. Be here. Now.
    7. If it needs to be done, just do it.
    8. Be decisive about knowing when to stop.
    9. Be reasonable when I’m feeling irrational.
    10. Don’t save things for special occasions.
    I love what you said about how we interpret others’ commandments from your own perspectives, and so I am not going to offer any of my own reasoning or perspective behind my commandments. I will say though, that perhaps we can all try to practice #3, #4, #6, and #9 when interacting with fussy children – or anyone, for that matter.
    Thanks for your blog and for being willing to share yourself with such honesty. It’s refreshing and inspiring!
    – Caroline

  • Gretchen
    Thank you for sharing.
    When I get a new psychotherapy client, we always start with rule #1 “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got – and it’s good enough!”
    Rule #1 is to be repeated and remembered everyday and whenever needed.
    All other work carries on from there.
    much love
    Heather x

  • hi gretchen,
    i really like how you applied “dig deep” for you. i can use that thought a lot. i’ve been reading How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. it is a FABULOUS book (i highly recommend it) that has made such a meaningful difference in my interactions with my children (and their interactions with me). sometimes i find myself half way through a typical response to them and i catch myself and remember what i’ve learned and change midstream. it still makes a difference. but like you, there are times when i need to dig deep to do it.

  • Dawn R

    My commandments (so far) consist of:
    If not now, when?
    It’s the little things in life…
    Live so as not to regret.
    4 rules for dealing with a mistake: admit, apologize, learn, and move on.
    I started putting the list together after reading yours. Thanks for all you do!

  • I understand completely how your mornings feel. It’s always a juggling act to get everyone ready and out the door (my kids are 6 & 7) with lunches, homework, snack, etc., and still be smiling and kind. I usually succeed with the first part, but the smiling and kind thing is tough sometimes. Someone once said to me to speak to my children (when I’m stressed) the same way I would speak to one of their friends, or if someone else could overhear me. It’s come in handy a few times.

  • I LOVE seeing people’s commandments. Thanks so much for taking the time to post those.
    Mornings with kids are so tough. Here’s some advice I try (but don’t always manage) to follow:

  • Hi Gretchen,
    I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and I’ve always found it helpful and inspiring. In fact, because of you, I try to remember to sing in the morning. The other day my daughter said, “Hey, we didn’t sing the good morning song!” So it seems to be working =).
    It’s so funny that you have this topic as a post because it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. My 2 children are 3yrs and 3 months old. I used to find myself thinking, “Oh, when they’re older…” Until one day I realized that for them, there is no “later.” This IS their life and it’s up to me to make it what I wish for them right now. Bearing this in mind has really helped me with my resolve in those moments when I need to “dig deep.” I’m not always able to keep my patience, but remembering that this is their life helps me get back on track faster.
    Thanks for all the inspiration and good luck as you work on your book.

  • Nic

    Personally, I’m a fan of the “I’ll give you something to cry about” school of thought…

  • Melissa

    Hey, Gwaine! One of MY personal commandments is “It doesn’t matter.” How fascinating.
    Anyway, Gretchen, every time you make a reference to your quick temper or short fuse, I have to smile…because I am so very much like you in this regard. It’s a relief to know there are other people out there trying so hard to control this “flaw.” For me, I believe that my happiness is directly proportionate to the extent to which I can let something go or just not get angry…and vice versa. Maybe you find this to be true, too?
    All that to say… Don’t give up! You’re an inspiration no matter what! :O)